Part Four

In Defence of Trotskyism - Our Struggle with the International

[Section 2]

In Britain we were educating our cadres, raising their political level by scrupulously taking up all the theoretical questions that arose. However, within the organisation Gerry Healy commenced his disruptive activities, firstly as the agent of Cannon and the American SWP, and then as the agent of Pablo. As far as the so-called International was concerned, Healy was a very good obedient errand boy who did and said exactly what the International leadership told him to do and say. On all these key questions he could be relied upon to put forward their political line, attempting to build up a clique against the Haston-Grant leadership.

On political matters Healy had no ideas of his own. One rather amusing instance comes to mind that proves the point. In 1946, there was a discussion about the occupation of Germany and other countries by the Red Army - as well as by Allied troops. The RCP came out firmly for the withdrawal of all armies of occupation including the Red Army and for the right of national self-determination. The faction that had now begun to crystallise around Healy put forward the position that we must stand for the withdrawal of the imperialist armies from occupation areas, but not the Red Army. This was the army of the workers' state, etc. Healy waged a long campaign on this question within the organisation calling us "revisionists" for the stand we had taken. The International leadership had been silent on this question, so in order to get clarity on this issue, we wrote a letter to the International Secretariat in Paris demanding an urgent reply.

Now it just so happened that on the day this letter from the IS arrived we had invited Healy and a supporter of his called John Goffe to the Political Committee to discuss some organisational question or other. In front of Healy, Millie Lee reported that a letter had arrived from Paris and this was duly read to the committee. It was a short note that read:

"Concerning the question raised by the letter of Comrade Lee of 7 May 1946 on the subject of the interpretation of the passage of the Manifesto concerning the Red Army, a political reply will be made by the IS in some days specifying that our position must be in fact - 'for the withdrawal of all occupation armies, including the Red Army' - and no ambiguity must henceforth exist on this matter."

Quite naturally we all looked at Healy, like the man in the advert who sneezed. After all, he had been waging a vehement campaign for weeks and months against our alleged revisionist position. Healy turned as white as a sheet. He threw up his hands and said, "Well, so now we've got agreement." Goffe remained silent - not uttering a single word at the PB meeting on the subject.[2]

We had got agreement alright! It was agreement reached by telegraph - just like the Comintern representatives who received their marching orders by a telegraph from Moscow, without explanation of any kind. If there had been an argument or at least a document of ten, or twenty, or thirty pages, you could at least argue that Healy had been convinced by the argument or the document. But the IS letter consisted simply of a few lines! The Cannon/Pablo leadership was engaged in methods that had nothing in common with those of Lenin and Trotsky. They formed blocs not on a political basis, but on the basis of organisational manoeuvres. That is why their political stooge in London had abandoned his original position and announced that we now had agreement immediately, without hesitation, without even thinking. Indeed, no thought was required. When Paris said turn, Healy turned.

Healy's behaviour disgusted every member of the Political Committee who was present. This episode illustrated the rottenness of this tendency and also clearly indicated what the International Secretariat and the SWP really wanted to build. What they wanted in other countries were people who would bow down in front of them, and accept without question their words of wisdom as if from the mouth of the Divine Oracle. It was a disgusting method. With such means you can build nothing but political zombies - people like Healy. Their conception, even at that stage, of an International was entirely opposed to the conceptions of Lenin and Trotsky and the traditions of the best days of the Third International.

We wrote a statement about the affair in the Internal Bulletin which stated:

"It is obvious that under conditions such as outlined above, political discussion with members of our Minority reduces itself to a farce. One cannot seriously discuss with an opponent who not only changes positions without motivation, and at a moment's notice, but who then denies that he ever held them. Already disgust and apathy has started to spread among the membership, who prefer to stay away from aggregates than waste their time in such farcical discussions.

"We therefore appeal to all members of the Minority who have any sense of revolutionary integrity, to combat these deplorable methods. We further appeal to all members of the Party to create that necessary atmosphere of Bolshevik accounting for one's political positions, changes and transformations within the Party, as to make the use of such methods impossible in our ranks."[3]

But these words fell on deaf ears, and the Healy minority continued his intrigues as before.

The RCP and the Nuremberg trials

Following the Neath by-election campaign, we initiated an important campaign over the Nuremberg Trials and an attempt to exposed the Stalinists. Within a few months of the war ending, the Allied Powers began to put the Nazi gangsters on trial in order to put the complete responsibility for the war onto their shoulders. The RCP immediately saw them as a tremendous opportunity to expose the crimes and frame-ups of the Moscow Trials.

In the Stalinist Show Trials, the Trotskyists, and alleged Trotskyists, including Zinoviev, Kamenev, and Red Army generals like Tukhachevski, had been framed and murdered by Stalin. Nuremberg would give us an opportunity to expose the lies that the Trotskyists were Nazi agents. Above all, it would allow us to demand the rehabilitation of Trotsky and those who had perished in Stalin's Purges. In due course, this campaign would also expose those who had shamelessly supported the Moscow Trials - professional liars like Kingsley Martin of the New Statesman and a whole layer of the Labour leaders who, for the sake of their popular front with Stalinism, had gone along with their slanders against Trotskyism.

So we gathered together a committee of leading lights, intellectuals and some Labour MPs, and set up a campaign to demand that at the Nuremberg trials questions should be asked of the defendants concerning their alleged relations with Trotsky. We advocated that there should be a thorough examination of the allegations made at the Moscow trials that Trotsky had been an agent of German fascism. We wrote a letter to Labour Prime Minister Clement Attlee, and we received an acknowledgement from his secretary saying that our suggestions were noted. We conducted a campaign for months while the Nuremberg Trial were going on. Finally, we raised the demand that Natalia Sedov, Trotsky's wife, should be allowed to question the top Nazi defendants at the trial, as she had been directly involved in the slanders, and should have the opportunity to rehabilitate her husband.

We waged quite a successful campaign given the limited resources of the organisation. Every issue of Socialist Appeal had articles on the question. We campaigned vigorously in the labour movement and raised quite large sums of money. We also received support from the famous writer and Fabian socialist HG Wells. He deserved credit for this, particularly considering the fierce attack made on him by Trotsky in the past. Wells and a whole series of other writers and intellectuals gave valuable assistance to the campaign. We believed that Bernard Shaw probably never received our campaign material, in any case, he never replied, which was not like him. He was always polite and would have at least replied. So we figured he probably had a Stalinist secretary and never saw the material.

"The Nuremberg Campaign conducted by the Party has been one of the most important aspects of our activity in the struggle against Stalinism and the Moscow Trials", stated The Party Organiser (September 1946). "The Manifesto signed by prominent intellectuals had international repercussions. The campaign was taken up by our sections in other parts of the world. 40,000 leaflets were distributed throughout the country, mainly at Communist Party meetings, and a number of trade union branches were addressed on the subject."

As stated, we gave the campaign a labour movement slant and raised the issue in the trade union branches, calling for resolutions to be sent to Downing Street and to national union conferences. We even sent a letter to the Communist Party inviting them to participate, as we were sure that in the interests of truth, they would like to assist! We sent it as a registered letter, but, as expected, we got no reply. Nevertheless, we used this fact against them. In trade union branches where we had comrades, we put the Communist Party members on the spot by asking them why their party was not prepared to support this campaign. The other sections of the International, including the French, Italians, Belgians, Dutch, as well as the South American sections, reproduced material from the Socialist Appeal and organised their own committees on similar lines.

Incredibly, the American SWP was silent. They failed to organise any such campaign. The French comrades said that the only reason why the Americans had not done so was because of the political differences with the British section. It was due to petty spite. Towards the end of the Nuremberg trials, Shachtman of the Workers Party took up the campaign, and put the American SWP in an impossible position. Shachtman conducted an enthusiastic campaign reproducing our material on the question of Trotsky's rehabilitation. The failure of the SWP really showed the way in which Cannon conducted politics.

James Cannon was, without doubt, a workers' leader, as Trotsky said. However, he didn't have the necessary theoretical depth and neither did the other leaders of the SWP. You couldn't imagine Lenin and Trotsky, or Marx and Engels, or Luxemburg being concerned about their personal prestige - or allowing it to affect their political judgement - especially over such an issue. If Trotsky had been alive, he would have immediately taken up the Campaign and roundly condemned the SWP. The behaviour of the Americans was symptomatic of a sickness that was already prevalent in the International at that time.

Healy's intrigues

Meanwhile, behind the scenes in Britain, the little clique around Healy, Cooper and Goffe, saw it as their "internationalist duty" to get rid of the RCP leadership. Backed by the Americans, as the "real" internationalists, Healy's faction would fight to become the leadership of the tendency. At that time, John Lawrence, who had originally sided with Healy, had come over to us because we had made him a full-time organiser in Wales. Lawrence had a certain capacity and flair, and we thought he would develop his talents in a full-time capacity. But, as it turned out, we were shown to be wrong. He lacked real stamina or endurance, and was infected by the moods of pessimism that now began to affect certain layers. Healy and his group now tried to latch onto every difference they could find in their struggle with the leadership. Soon, they stumbled on our position over redundancies that affected certain industries after the war, and used that to whip up some opposition.

Obviously, the Marxist tendency is opposed in principle to redundancies in the workplaces. These attacks have to be resisted by all means possible. That is our starting point. However, where the bosses impose lay-offs upon a factory, and there is no alternative, it is the duty of activists to defend the workers' organisation in the workplace. Any attempt to transfer labour should only be undertaken under the control of the trade unions. If there are lay-offs in a factory, then they should be carried out on the basis of non-unionists first, and then on the basis of seniority, i.e. last in, first out. Such a procedure will prevent the bosses from carrying through a policy of victimisation of trade union militants.

The great Marxists always had a principled position on this question. For instance, in Where is Britain Going? Trotsky explains that it was important to defend the organised workers in any factory. He even went so far as to propose that not only should non-unionists be expelled from the workplace, but even trade unionists who refused to pay the political levy to the Labour Party. He described the latter as political blacklegs, who should be treated as such. When we explained Trotsky's position to Healy and Co., they weren't able to answer the point. Of course, they still persisted in saying we were wrong, that we had abandoned the Transitional Programme and so on.

At that time, the American SWP had a similar position to us, putting forward the idea that if there had to be redundancies, we must protect the trade union organisation, and the non-unionists must be the first to go. This had been the tradition of both the American and of the British movement on the issue of sackings. But although the SWP had the same position as ourselves, in our debate with Healy, they kept absolutely silent. They allowed their stooges in Britain to run roughshod over this important elementary position, showing once again their Zinovievist approach to principled questions.

Healy was a highly suitable stooge for Cannon. He had neither principles nor scruples, but he was a good organiser. As we have seen, Healy's intrigues and manoeuvres got him expelled from our organisation on several occasions On each occasion that Healy was expelled, we brought him back, in most cases against the wishes of the rank and file. A certain responsibility rests on Haston's shoulders and mine for allowing him to return to the organisation. We recognised that Healy had organisational ability, which we wanted to harness for the movement, and we never took a personal attitude toward these questions. We were to pay a high price for such tolerance! Between 1944 and 1947, in his struggle with the RCP leadership, Healy must have raised at least a hundred different disagreements. He was not concerned about the issues themselves either from a theoretical or a practical point of view. He was just desperate to find some key issue upon which he could galvanise some support against us within the organisation. In all of this, Healy gave unconditional support to the International leadership, and was reciprocally supported by them in their fight to replace the leadership of the RCP.

Healy was especially encouraged and helped in his factional activity by his old friend Pierre Frank. Despite Trotsky's stern warning to keep him out of the International, Frank had managed to find a modus vivendi with the IS and later with the SWP. He now found himself in the good books of the leadership. Incredibly, he began to play the role of a "theoretician" becoming the chief exponent of entrism internationally. This tactic was entirely incorrect at the time, but Healy latched on to it to see what kind of response he would get, with the full backing of the International Secretariat, needless to say. At first, Frank favoured the dissolution of the RCP into the ILP. So Healy took up the demand for our immediate entry into the ILP. I must say, when this was raised, it was greeted with a great laugh by most of the comrades. As explained earlier, we had political control of two divisions of the ILP in the North-east. When these comrades heard the proposal that the RCP should dissolve into the ILP they were absolutely horrified. Of course, none of these comrades were prepared to support such a fantastic notion.

Immediately after the war, the ILP leaders had applied for re-affiliation to the Labour Party. Their pacifist anti-war position had not resulted in the massive gains they anticipated. There was no big anti-war backlash. On the contrary, the overwhelming mass of the population fully supported the war, which they saw as a war against fascism. In many respects, the ILP was facing the same isolation during this period as the RCP. As a result of the measures of the Labour Government, reformist illusions within the working class were growing and being reinforced by their daily experience. Therefore, feeling the cold wind of reality, the ILP leaders wanted to go home to the Labour Party. Fenner Brockway raised the matter of the ILP's affiliation to the Labour Party in discussions with Morrison. Apparently, Morrison told Brockway that the Labour Party needed a left wing. Labour's right wing always needed a Left as a kind of shield against the anger of the working class. Morrison said he was in favour of the ILP's affiliation to the Labour Party and was sure he could get a majority on the NEC - unless, of course, the ILP was seen as "Trotskyist", and in that case there would be no agreement.

To demonstrate that the ILP was not "Trotskyist" or revolutionary, Brockway arranged for our ILP comrades in Durham and Northumberland to be expelled on trumped-up charges. Unfortunately for Brockway, he found his plans to rejoin the Labour Party blocked by the sectarianism that had been fostered in the ranks of the ILP. Although he and the rest of the ILP leadership were anxious to get into the Labour Party, and Maxton and McGovan in particular didn't want to lose their seats, the majority of the rank and file were opposed to re-affiliation. But Brockway and the rest were in too much of a hurry. Defeated over this issue, they couldn't wait to get a majority. They simply jumped ship and entered the Labour Party. The anti-affiliationists, such as Ted Fletcher in the North East and Charles Lockland who was also an MP, held out for as long as they could. But they also felt the cold winds of the objective situation. So there was a process of slow disintegration, with one layer after another, breaking from the ILP and joining the Labour Party. The rump of the ILP simply vegetated on the fringes of the labour movement - an amalgam of reformism, sectarianism and centrism, living off the (considerable) resources inherited from the past.

The RCP now found itself in a very difficult position. The objective conditions had become very difficult. During the war thousands of trade unionists were reading the Socialist Appeal regularly. Possibly thousands of members of the Communist Party were also reading our material on a regular basis. However, the thousands, maybe even tens of thousands that we had influenced during the course of the war, now fell into indifference. They said: "The Labour Party is doing the job. The Labour Government is carrying through its programme. What need do we have for the RCP?" Naturally, the sales of the paper declined and we found ourselves with our backs against the wall. On the other hand, those Communist Party workers, who had looked towards us sympathetically in the past in spite of the lies of the leadership, now pointed to China, Eastern Europe, and to the glittering victories of Russia: "Your case is completely discredited", they said. "The Communist Party is carrying though the revolution; the Communist Party is a revolutionary party".

We were in one of those unfortunate positions, which had been described many times by Trotsky. In his writings of 1934-35, he explained that, although the Left Opposition in Russia in the ten years between 1923 and 1933, had a correct position on all the key questions, it was shattered on the basis of the objective situation. The Opposition was isolated and defeated because of the way events developed in Russia and internationally. Similarly the Bolshevik Party was near to collapse as a result of the defeat of the 1905 Russian Revolution. Between 1908 and 1910, the Bolsheviks were reduced to a tiny handful. The black period of reaction in Russia itself inevitably isolated and shattered the revolutionary movement. This explains the dialectical relationship between the objective situation and the subjective factor - the party and the leadership. As Trotsky explained in his article Fighting Against the Stream: "The masses are not educated by prognostic theoretical conception, but by general experiences of their lives. It is the most general explanation - the whole situation is against us. There must be a turn in the class realisation, in the sentiments, in the feelings of the masses; a turn which will give us the opportunity for a large political success." Again, "The current is against us, that is clear. I remember the period between 1906 and 1913 in Russia. There was also a reaction. In 1905 we had the workers with us - in 1908 and even in 1907 began the great reaction."[4]

[To be continued]

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Notes

[2] See RCP Internal Bulletin, 4 August 1946.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Writings of Leon Trotsky, 1938-39, p.252.